An essay on the fellowship of the wounded. The comradery between those who have had horrific experiences in evangelical Christianity. The bonds that unite the broken who are walking forward. How people hurt by evangelicalism can and do struggle with the church. The story of Eagle’s baptism and how the fellowship of the wounded encouraged him. Also how the greatest threat to Christianity comes not from atheism, or society changing the definition of marriage…instead the greatest threat to Christianity is internal and coming from men like Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, and men like Star Scott of Calvary Temple of Sterling, Virginia.
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”
Jeremiah 6:14 NIV
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm my great army that I sent among you.”
Joel 2:25 NIV
This post came to my mind late last week. And I started to write and it was reinforced by my activities on Saturday afternoon April 11, 2015. I attended a protest by many former members of Calvary Temple (CT) to observe, watch and meet a couple of people. I did some frantic emailing behind the scenes a couple of weeks prior and helped get some members of CT hooked up to Dee Parsons so she could tell the story of Calvary Temple on her blog The Wartburg Watch. So I wanted to meet some of the people involved, look them in the eye, shake their hand and hear first hand about the hell they endured. I had a lot to think about as I drove home to Fairfax after witnessing the protest in Sterling. I never saw a protest of a church before..that said I am proud of everyone who did protest. So in light of my experiences there I penned the following journal entry to all those who have been wounded by a church, ministry, bad preacher, or something similar. I believe the term “fellowship of the wounded” was coined by Dee Parsons. So I am not trying to steal her thunder. I am trying to write about and build upon what she stated. When you are hurt by an evangelical church, a religious movement, sect, or cult you find yourself becoming part of a club. Its a club that no one wants to be a part of but there you are. A while back on the news after the wake of another mass shooting I read an article that interviewed one of the parents who lost one of their children in a mass shooting. I can’t remember which one it is, but I am inclined to say it is Daryl Scott who lost his daughter in Columbine in April 1999. But this parent remarked to how they became a member of a club they don’t want to be a member of, and how they became a member of a club they wish they were not.
In reflecting on these things let me also touch on another couple of issues which grieves me or of which I deeply sympathize. First due to my faith crisis I empathize with many atheists, agnostics, and those outside the faith. When I hear a co-worker tell me that they will never believe in God due to the problem of evil I nod my head and deep down I can relate…because during my faith crisis I felt the same way. I have been there, and the topic is sore with me and stirred when I hear about the problem of evil. The next time there is a horrific terrorist attack or school shooting that makes Newtown seem innocent you will probably see my write a post asking God why? But furthermore I can also relate to those outside the faith who were hurt in a church, religious movement, or by someone involved in one. I can relate to people who became part of the nones or dones not by choice but by how the church treated them.
Shared Painful Experiences
There is one thing about this club that I and so many other members are a part. We’ve each had a painful and difficult experience in the evangelical church that was traumatic. It forced us to question..to wonder, what happened? Each case is unique but in many ways we are bonded by our pain. Now note I am not claiming to be a victim and I am not wallowing in pity, or asking for sympathy. Many people who are in this club are blessed in other ways and while they have pain they are still blessed and go on in other ways within each respective life. The painful experiences vary… You could have been a deacon at Andy Davis First Baptist of Durham and have been called “wicked and unregenerate” and forced out of the church in a power play. You could have been a part of a SGM Church and left the northern Virginia area and participated in a church plant in Florida and things imploded and your family suffered. You could have been a college student attending the University of Arizona who unknowingly got involved in a former Maranatha style shepherding church in Tuscan and you were hurt. The shunning you experienced was so painful you wondered if this is what divorce feels like? And yet the stories continue… Members of the fellowship of the wounded relate and associate to others in their pain because those who have had similar painful experiences can relate, empathize and understand.
Shared Belief About God
There is one thing that unites many of us in the fellowship of the wounded. Many of us despite our experience still believe in God and are clinging onto our faith by a thread. While the evangelical church has created many needless atheists and people who have walked away from the Christian faith the amazing thing is that many of the fellowship of the wounded still believe in God. And many of us are hanging on as if our life depended upon it. Some like me wondered away from the Christian faith and realized the problems of atheism/agnosticism and eventually wondered back. But its important to state that many people in this fellowship have been wounded but firmly believe in God. Some people realize that that they had looked upon pastors and men in wrong ways. Others had trusted their church when they should not have trusted their church. In some systems like Sovereign Grace they were trained to trust the pastor and think the pastor is above, special and unique. Others have once been taught to “not touch or question the Lord’s anointed.” But despite the painful experiences we go forward…and its amazing that many in this fellowship firmly believe in God. We take comfort in the fact that the Lord probably grieves over the state of the pain hemorrhaging from today’s evangelical church. Jesus once wept for Jerusalem. He stood over the city and saw the people who were lost and he wept. I firmly believe that Jesus is probably looking at the state of the modern evangelical church and is weeping also. He’s weeping about the pain in Sovereign Grace. He’s weeping over the pain Pam Palmer, Happymom, and what so many other families in SGM have endured. He’s weeping over what happened to Paul Petry and Bent Meyer at Mars Hill Seattle. He’s weeping over what Mark Driscoll threatened to do and his efforts to destroy Rob Smith’s ministry Agathos. He’s weeping over Rebecca Lynn and the members of Countryside Church in Michigan City, Indiana and what the Acts 29 network did to that established church. He’s weeping over all the destroyed and decimated families hurt by Star Scott’s Calvary Temple in Sterling, Virginia.
Disillusionment With Modern Evangelicalism
Many members of the fellowship of the wounded are disillusioned with the modern evangelical church. Some can’t trust another church again and have decided not to go. Others have seen the Bible so manipulated they are weary of trusting another church. Others go into churches and try after they have gathered the strength and they are frustrated that many churches don’t want to know or care about what they have endured. Basically those who try to get into another church can and have been told to get over it, and get with the program. This is re-inforced by many churches living in bubbles in their communities and not being aware of knowing as to what is happening in nearby churches. This is because for many evangelical churches the Gospel is a ticket to a middle class life, a life of privilege and building up your kingdom and protecting it. Therefore its inconvenient for other churches along Leesburg Pike in Tysons Corner or Loudon County, Virginia to worry about the pain hemorrhaging out of CT. Sure Jesus warned people about the priest who left the wounded person alongside the road because he had to get to the temple in the parable of the Good Samaritan. How many churches in Tysons Corner, Sterling, and Leesburg are doing the same thing and acting like the priest getting to their church while ignoring the pain at CT? How many churches care about corruption and pain in their community? Fairfax Community Church loves to talk about the International Justice Mission and sex abuse in Asia. Is Fairfax Community Church concerned with all the pain hemorrhaging out of Sovereign Grace Fairfax due to the sex abuse that took place there? After all…Fairfax Community Church is down the street from Sovereign Grace Fairfax shouldn’t they be aware or know of this so that when people end up at their door step they can help them? Some members of the fellowship of the wounded are frustrated to have left organizations like Sovereign Grace and see materials from SGM used in their church. Others while trying to avoid Neo-Calvinism see prosperity gospel theology in other churches which many people are trying to avoid. The modern evangelical Christian church is a minefield that is complicated, tricky, and in some cases risky. With the upsurge of authority sometimes the church can be the most risky place to be. In the future I would like to write about the topic of how do you choose a church, what do you look for? What red flags exist? I would like to walk you through my paradigm of thought. Despite everything I am still clinging to hope. As I said I would love to be proven wrong in writing this online journal.
My Personal Experiences Among the Wounded and My Baptism
My personal experiences within the fellowship of the wounded came about as a result of my faith crisis and being invited to a Sovereign Grace church at the time. When my faith crisis hit I was unprepared for how the church would react. In many cases some people didn’t know how to react to me. In other cases I drove people away from me in anger, pain, confusion or frustration. Others couldn’t deal with the questions I was asking and I felt like a leper…an outcast. I walked through a dark valley that hung over me. In regards to Sovereign Grace I was invited by a co-worker Andrew White. Let me state that the goal of my writing here is not to malign him at all. We both made mistakes toward each other and I hope you notice that I don’t spare myself any criticism. I call myself out in the mistakes that I made. And while I will talk about the pain I have from Andrew White I will also engage on things he did that touched me. For example I wrote on Friday’s post about some of the acts of unconditional love that Andrew showed me that deeply moved me. That said he did commit a horrific betrayal that sent me into the darkest season of my life. I’ve discussed the situation with many so I am comfortable talking about it. And in some ways there are some good things that came out of the dark season. And for that I am grateful.
One of my personal experiences with the fellowship of the wounded occurred on the weekend of my baptism on Sunday November 24, 2013. That Saturday evening of November 23 I met Dee Parsons and her husband Bill Parsons. It was the first time I met Bill Parsons and I was stunned that they decided to drive up from Raleigh, North Carolina for my baptism. At a Hampton Inn Dee saw me and said, “My third son…” and hugged me. Dee knew my story of both my faith crisis, exploring atheism and my brush with Sovereign Grace’s Redeemer Arlington at the time. Dee and her husband Bill Parsons were involved in the same church that the intern Douglas Goodrich had sexually abused a number of people. The Parsons became very concerned with what was happening in their “local church” of Providence Baptist. The night before my baptism I enjoyed the company and fellowship of the Parsons which was deeply touching for me. But the fellowship of the wounded shined the following morning on the day I got baptized at Fairfax Community Church. Going into my baptism I had a feeling of amazing peace in the sense of how hard I worked at owning my mistakes from my faith crisis. My goal was to seek forgiveness from about 140 people in the end and I believe in November 2013 I was in the 120 range. (I’m still working this by the way) What made it sweeter is that shortly before my baptism I had a major breakthrough and had reconciled and made peace with Archie Griffen. It was the most difficult relationship to salvage and redeem to that point. However there was one thing that tore me apart that morning as I prepared for and got ready for my baptism. There was no peace between Andrew White and myself. When I was in a relationship with Andrew given the efforts he made to try and help me, and his dedication I told him that if I ever came back to the Christian faith I would have no problem with getting baptized and I told him that he could baptize me. That weighed a lot on my mind that morning. So I decided to use my baptism, my public way of saying that I no longer identified with agnosticism as an opportunity to pray for Andrew White and that there would be peace. And that is what I did…as I got into the water and got ready for being baptized I prayed during the process that Andrew and I could find peace one day. That we could be brothers again, and that any animosity could be permanently buried. The other thing that stunned me was when the fellowship of the wounded was there to cheer me on and encourage me. I do remember the screams, and leaving the baptismal fount and having Dee Parsons come up to me and hug me. She didn’t care that she was getting soaked and her clothes were getting wet. She cried with joy. It was an example of the fellowship of the wounded just shining. But it got better…after I changed and emerged some of the people from Sovereign Grace came by to support me. One of them was a person who warned me about Redeemer Arlington and she was grateful that I never got involved. She explained to me her relief telling me it wasn’t a healthy church at all. Then I met Happymom and Wallace who were there are well. Happymom gave me a Charles Spurgeon devotional which to this day I still look at. (Note..if the Neo Cals dropped their obsession with celebrity pastors, The Gospel Coalition, church covenants, and a faith system that has more in common with Sunni Islam than I would be more open to what they would say…I do respect Spurgeon) And it was a beautiful time for the fellowship of the wounded. Meeting people who had their run in with Sovereign Grace touched me and told me that I was not alone. In the course of time I would meet many more.
This afternoon I drove to Sterling, Virginia to the site of CT to meet many of the people hurt by that organization. On a more humorous note I learned that most of the people I met this afternoon were named Michelle. So I could say Michelle and half the crowd would have turned toward me! On a more serious note I was grieved and just torn hearing the stories of pain and devastation of divided and broken families. One person sitting on a hill opposite CT was talking with me and pointed out her best friend across the way. She explained how long they were friends, for how many years. She explained how she helped them out in many crisis and with their bills. And then when they left CT her close friend for two decades shunned her. She was treated as dead. Other people told me of how they had children who cut them off or a spouse who cut them off..all on the orders of the church. My one question that I had was the following…what about the other churches nearby? Are they saying anything? Are they speaking out? Are they concerned with all these destroyed families and the spiritual and sexual abuse hemorrhaging out of the organization. There was another thing that stunned me I learned how CT uses false accusations as a tactic to hurt former members and people who were leaving. When I heard that I nodded my head in agreement and could relate to what a situation like that feels like. I have been there, and I have walked down that dark valley. In that context the fellowship of the wounded really shined in that despite my background and not having any background with CT, the questionable religious experiences were there. And in that sense I could relate, and it was in that context that the fellowship of the wounded emerged and shined. To those of you weeping in pain for the way CT has affected you let me say that I weep with you. This Christian who lives in Fairfax grieves what is happening in Sterling, Virginia. I want you to know that you are not alone in your pain and suffering. The fellowship of the wounded is large and growing daily due to the issues of corruption in the evangelical church. But I want people who stood outside CT waving signs and protesting to know that they have many people in their corner. They are loved, they are cared for, and they don’t have to carry this burden by themselves. I am one Christian who would love to help them carry that burden.
There is another point I want to make as I believe its important to state. Many of you know that I studied history in college and grad school. When the Watergate scandal was unfolding there was a very unique way that John Dean described the scandal. John Dean described the growing scandal as a cancer on the presidency. Its probably one of the most infamous descriptions used. For those in the fellowship of the wounded we would say that there is another cancer that is growing. Its a cancer that is growing within evangelicalism. Its a cancer that comes about due to child sex abuse, spiritual abuse, corrupt pastors and ministries that honestly believe that they can break the law and cover it up. To those ministries that think they can hide sin and corruption the fellowship of the wounded wants to ask them…what Bible are they reading? Many people in the fellowship of the wounded are also conservative and with that in mind we also say the following. The greatest threat to Christianity in the United States today is not from atheists, the New Atheist movement, or gays and the way marriage is currently being redefined in the United States. The greatest threat to Christianity comes from within. The greatest threat to Christianity comes from people like Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney and pastors like Star Scott of Calvary Temple. We have enough sin and corruption hemorrhaging from the church. Shouldn’t we pull the log from our own eye before we talk about gay marriage or countless other issues? The Gospel is at stake! And this corruption is threatening the Gospel. While most of the church acts indifferent to the pain its the fellowship of the wounded who again swing into action.
The fellowship of the wounded is at work in many ways. Its in the work of Naomi and Brandon as they write the blog Against Calvary Temple. They write to warn people of the cult in their midst and to help people who are involved. The fellowship is alive in all the people who held up signs and protested in front of CT and against Star Scott Saturday afternoon. They do this out of love for their own families and to warn others so they won’t end up in the same situation. The fellowship exists in individuals like Happymom who remain concerned with loopholes in Virginia law relating to child sex abuse. The fellowship also exists in individuals like Pam Palmer who are working hard in trying to change the statute of limitation for child sex crimes in the state of Maryland. It also leads her to pass out fliers when the Southern Baptists had their meeting in Baltimore last summer. What leads two mothers who came from Sovereign Grace to feel that way? Its done out of compassion and love so that no other family has to endure what they have suffered through. The fellowship of the wounded is alive in how it presses forward with individuals like Amy Smith who are deeply concerned with the problem of child sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention. The fellowship is alive with people like Dee Parsons and Julie Anne Smith who both have used their horrific church experiences to reach out and support others. This is what makes the fellowship shine. Furthermore I would like to go on and say that these are the Bereans that Paul challenges the church to be like. The Bereans today who search the scripture, test it and think critically are people like Julie Anne Smith, Dee Parsons, Pam Palmer, Happymom, all the Michelle’s I met today protesting Calvary Temple, Naomi and Brandon, Rob Smith and countless others. This is the fellowship of the wounded at work. What drives it is love and compassion and caring for the Gospel which they are contesting for each day. The church is lucky to have them. I would love to have Amy Smith in the same congregation that I am involved. A healthy vibrant church would be lucky to have these members in their midst.
In closing I want to end on a positive note. On November 24, 2013 I was baptized at Fairfax Community Church. That morning which was my public declaration of faith I consider to be the formal end to my faith crisis. That morning I used the occasion to pray that I could be at peace one day with Andrew White. That morning as I was getting baptized this Matt Redman song was one of the songs people were getting baptized to. Its with that I would like to end this journal entry of today.